Embedded in our Christmas celebrations and treasury of Christmas carols is one carol that seems rather silly and only related to Christmas because of the gift-giving. The carol also seems archaic to modern ears because we don’t have maids milking or lords leaping in today’s society.
Legend has it that in England those of the Roman Catholic persuasion were forbidden from practicing and teaching their faith. This carol, then, became a “singing catechism” for the Catholic British. I will express my doubts about this because it seems, as the gifts are explained to me, that there is nothing that Christians of all stripes and persuasions would not “believe, teach, or confess.” Why one group should have to go into hiding to confess beliefs that the opposition also accepted seems rather peculiar. Had there been mention of the pope or saints or Mary, then I would understand.
A possibility could be the Puritan rule in England which forbad the celebration of Christmas because of the drunkenness and rowdiness that had become a part of Christmas. Here again I express my doubts, because singing is a very public activity and would get anybody in trouble in that time period.
However, I do like that people have attached symbolism to the gifts regardless of the origins. Thus, for these twelve days of Christmas I will use this song like a catechism to teach the basic truths of Christianity. And in this endeavor we shall combine two elements of Lutheranism—congregational singing and the catechism, or enchiridion (literally “hand book”). Luther returned the proclamation of the Word to the laity by reintroducing lay singing in the churches, using poet lyrics and familiar tunes (even if he had to modify drinking songs), and by the Small Catechism so that the “head of the household can teach his children.”
The carol explains who does the action and to whom the action is done. This giving is done at Christmas, when God the Father fulfilled his promise to send a Savior from sin (“You shall call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” Matthew 1:21).
“My true love” refers to the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Perhaps the sweetest picture of the relationship of Christ to the Church is as a bride and bridegroom. Solomon’s Song of Songs illustrates this picture the best. If you haven’t already, read the Song of Solomon. Interestingly the Song of Solomon was read every Passover and hence Jesus uses the imagery of marriage during Passover (see Matthew 22:1-14, 23-33; 25:1-13, and John 14:1-4).
Paul continues this in Ephesians 5:21-33 when he writes:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
The Old Testament gives us a picture of marital unfaithfulness. The prophet Hosea is told by God to marry a prostitute to illustrate Judah’s unfaithfulness to God! We are talking a betrayal of the most intimate trust there is. It is that intimacy which God wants for us.
The true love gives gifts—to me! John Wesley once stated that he was glad that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). For, Wesley reasoned, if the passage had said “God so loved John Wesley,” then he would wonder if it meant another John Wesley. The true love offers these gifts to all people—believers and unbelievers alike. Many are given without the recipients knowledge! As the days go by, notice that the graciousness of the giver increases. God is not stingy! In fact, he gave up his life and shed his blood to pay for the sins of every single person.
In the next twelve days let us look at these gifts given by our true love, the bridegroom Jesus Christ.
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